Chip Ganassi Racing’s signing of Alex Palou caught plenty of NTT IndyCar Series fans off-guard earlier this week. The 23-year-old rookie demonstrated considerable promise with the Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh outfit, but it’s also hard to ignore that in the span of a year, he’s gone from racing in relative anonymity in Japan to filling the most coveted vacancy in IndyCar next to six-time champion Scott Dixon.
Palou’s whirlwind advancement to joining the new title winners is just part of a wildly unpredictable IndyCar season, and despite the surprise announcement, CGR managing director Mike Hull says they see great potential in pairing the Spaniard with Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, and Jimmie Johnson.
“I would say very concisely, that he’s an equal player in our system, number one,” Hull told RACER. “He already has raced Indy cars and in our opinion, has done a terrific job. And he raced with a very representative team, with a quality engineering group, with a proper teammate. So that being equal here, if we combine that with the teammates he has here, with the resource that we work with internally, the people resource, we’re excited about the fact that he can excel here as a race driver.”
Having raced at every track for the first time while also learning oval racing, there’s plenty of growth for Palou to make on his sophomore IndyCar campaign. Along with CGR’s depth in engineering talent, Palou will have four-time IndyCar champion-turned-driver coach Dario Franchitti at his disposal. It’s believed three drivers were under serious consideration for the No. 10 Honda, and after qualifying inside the Fast Nine on his first Indy 500 appearance, Hull earmarked Palou as someone to monitor as the silly season approached.
“Where I really first noticed him is on Carb Day,” he said. “You have your pit assignments for Carb Day, which is set up like it will be for the race, and I noticed right upstream from us was Alex Palou. And I’m thinking, ‘Well, I realized he qualified well, but not that well. I better keep an eye on this guy.’ And he had a misfortune in the race, but I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, any race driver that comes to Indy in their very first effort and qualifies as well as he does, possesses a lot of ability to listen, combined with natural ability, and if you have those two things together, it’s great.’”
Known for his warm and friendly personality, Palou’s demeanor also stood out after his early crash at the Indy 500, and other times where adversity struck the No. 55 DCRTG Honda.
“I’ve never really looked at race drivers based only on their natural ability, because in order to be here, that part’s almost a given,” Hull said. “It’s more about their humbleness, their ability to listen and their ability to come back stronger after a mistake. Because a lot of drivers show up at Indy with tons of natural ability, but without ears. And this guy has ears that are open to input, because in order to do what he was doing, he had to have both. Before that, on the positive side, when we were at Road America, I thought he did a heck of a job there.
“That racetrack probably suited him quite well because it’s more like what he was used to growing up on as a race driver, but I was impressed with the fact that he qualified well and he raced well there. I think he possesses all of those things you look for in a driver. I had never spoken to him until almost to the end of the race season, and behind those eyes is a very driven individual.”